Marketing your credentials – the hidden benefits of staff training

A recent report by the BBC has highlighted concerns expressed by the FSA over newly formed ‘at-home’ food businesses, who fail to register with their local authority. And in turn, this has prompted increasing numbers of consumers to consider whether the food products they buy from small online food operators is actually safe to eat.

Your legal requirements

Remember, food business registration can be as simple as completing an online form via your local authority website, and is a legal requirement for any business that:

  • sells food
  • cooks food
  • stores or handles food
  • prepares food
  • distributes food, including:
    • restaurants, cafes and takeaways
    • catering businesses run from home, B&Bs, mobile catering and temporary businesses
    • marquees, food stalls, food pop ups and food vans
    • nurseries, schools and care homes
    • distance selling, mail order and food delivery including online

Registration as a food business is free in the UK.

As a food business, you are also legally required to ensure that you, and anyone else working with food receives adequate supervision, instruction and/or training in food hygiene for the work that they do.

Use your credentials as marketing tools

As a food professional, how do YOU judge a restaurant’s food safety standards? You know what to look for, so when you are visiting a new food business, you probably check out the FSA Hygiene Star Rating (Food Hygiene Information Scheme rating in Scotland) in the door or window, and seek evidence of staff training certificates once inside.

You can use the same tools to market your online food business. If you are paying for food safety training, as well as nurturing skilled, knowledgeable staff, you should also look for other ways of making a return on your investment; that is to say, use it as a marketing tool. Talk about any training successes you’ve had via your social media accounts and website. This proactive approach shows customers that you care about their safety, and your team’s development.

At The Safer Food Group, we love to see customers celebrating training success. Tag @TheSaferFoodGroup in your social media posts, and we’ll give you a virtual pat on the back – increasing your audience reach and underlining your commitment to producing food safely.

You can also promote your official food hygiene rating – especially effective if you gain a 5 star / Pass rating. The FSA have created a media page and resources to help you advertise your rating virtually – it includes a great little toolkit with some invaluable ideas

You can also provide a link to your official business rating, so your customers can see for themselves – click here for Welsh and English listings and here for Scottish listings

Be proactive – talk about food safety

You might feel uncomfortable talking about food safety on your social media page but remember – it shouldn’t be a taboo subject, and if you uphold high hygiene standards in your business, you should be proud to talk about them. You can guarantee that some of your potential customers want to know – and are too shy to ask – so make it easy for them to choose you!

Our Customers: Case and Brewer Fish and Chips

Takeaway Restaurant

Established in 1963, this independent chippy on the South Coast prides itself on quality – and this is reflected in their customer service, their 5 star hygiene rating – and of course their food! Staff training has changed significantly since those early days, but has always been a key factor in getting things right for their customers.

David, the shop owner told us, “When our local authority originally introduced food hygiene training, it was face to face – we rearranged rotas and spent afternoons in the classroom to get our certificates. Whilst it was great to know our staff were competent, it was always tricky arranging sessions around opening times.

Using Safer Food Group online training has be great for us – it’s much easier to fit in around shifts, and the video lessons feel similar to the classroom course we used to take. The SFG website gives us an up to date record of our staff training, which helps keep a track on our seasonal staff, and all the courses we need are available in one place, including the Level 3 Supervisor, Health & Safety and Allergy Awareness courses.”

Case and Brewer are justifiably proud of their team’s achievements; if you manage a trip to beautiful Dorset this summer, why not pop in and enjoy some freshly cooked fish and chips and some great customer service.

Registering your food business – what’s holding you back?

A recent report by the BBC has highlighted concerns expressed by the FSA over newly formed ‘at-home’ food businesses, who fail to register with their local authority. But what are the rules around registering a food business, and what is holding business owners back from doing so?

“I only sell a few roast dinners once a week – it’s not really a food business”

Food business registration can be as simple as completing an online form via your local authority website, and is a legal requirement for any business that:

  • sells food
  • cooks food
  • stores or handles food
  • prepares food
  • distributes food, including:
    • restaurants, cafes and takeaways
    • catering businesses run from home, B&Bs, mobile catering and temporary businesses
    • marquees, food stalls, food pop ups and food vans
    • nurseries, schools and care homes
    • distance selling, mail order and food delivery including online

“But I only have a small business, I can’t afford to register”

Registration as a food business is free in the UK.


Other costs associated with setting up a new business, such as registration at Companies House and obtaining relevant business insurance are not linked to food business registration. Consider, however, that the penalties and risks (and stress!) you may incur if you don’t tick these boxes far outweigh your initial outlay.

“I’m running my business from my home – if I register, the EHO will visit and will probably close me down”

The Environmental Health team within your local authority are responsible for ensuring that all food businesses within their locality prepare and sell food which is safe for consumers. The most effective way to do this is to build and maintain good working relationships with food businesses – and so it is in their interests, as well as yours, to start communications on the right foot.

Your EHO will want to see that you have considered all aspects of setting up and running a food business safely; the good news is, there are many tools available to help you do so, including specific advice from the Food Standards Agency about setting up a food business at home.

If you are in doubt about any aspect of setting up your business safely, as a registered food business you can approach your EHO for invaluable advice. In short – the EHO is a vital business support person, not the big bad wolf!

“I’m still not sure I understand food safety properly – and I don’t have time to learn!”

Running any kind of business without fundamental skills and knowledge is pretty scary. But the training you need to run a food business safely and confidently- such as food hygiene, allergy awareness, health and safety and HACCP – can be easily accessed, flexible and great value for money. With online training, you can study at a time and place that suits you; and at a pace that works for your skill level and existing knowledge – just check that it is accredited by an appropriate awarding body (such as Qualifi or CIEH) and accepted by your local authority.

If you want to employ staff within your food business, especially if they will be working away from supervision, it is important to know that they have the correct training in place to uphold your standards, even when you’re not there. And demonstrating your credentials to your customers is a great marketing tool – even if you sell your business via local social media channels, people will be reassured to see your training certificates and your Food Hygiene rating

If you have recently started a food business and you’d like to share your experiences of the Food Business registration process, drop a comment below or visit our Facebook page and leave us a comment – we’d love to hear from you! And if you’re just starting out on your journey – good luck, we hope it goes well.

Do I need to register with the ICO?

The ICO, or Information Commissioner’s Office, oversees the safe handling of personal data within companies. Under the Data Protection Act 1998, any organisation that processes personal information must register with the ICO.  While failure to do so is a criminal offence, some organisations may be exempt and may not need to register or ‘notify’ the Information Commissioner’s Office.

What is ‘personal data’?

Personal data is information about individual people, where they live, what they do and more. It’s any and all information that identifies them, including:

  • people’s names and addresses;
  • photographs;
  • customer reference numbers;
  • customer reviews.

If a document, file or image identifies a person, or could be used in combination with other information to identify them, then it’s personal data. This applies even if the information doesn’t include a person’s name.

What does ‘handling personal data’ mean?

Handling personal data means taking any action with someone’s personal data. This begins when a business starts making a record of information about someone, and continues until they no longer need the information and it’s been securely destroyed. If you hold information on someone, it counts as processing even if you don’t do anything else with it.

So, in the example of a fish and chip shop, personal data might include a list of customers’ names, addresses and phone numbers that they use for ordering and delivering food, or images that they record on their CCTV system.

Which businesses are exempt?

Organisations that only processes personal information for:

  • staff administration (including payroll);
  • advertising, marketing and public relations (in connection with their own business activity);
  • accounts and records;

Some not-for-profit organisations;

Organisations that process personal data only for maintaining a public register;

Organisations that do not process personal information on computer.

Does this apply to my business?

You might use personal data in a slightly different way to the examples described above. To check whether your business needs to register with the ICO, follow this link to their self assessment tool and answer the questions…

Natasha’s Law – Are you ready?

Natasha’s Law is due to be implemented in October 2021. An important development in helping prevent the serious effects of food allergies, this law deals with labelling products that have been packed on premises ready for sale.

Who does it affect?

Any business that is preparing, packing and selling food from the same premises, or food that is packed centrally and sold from a mobile stall or vehicle

When does it come into force?

The law comes into force in October 2021 throughout the UK

What foods are covered by the new law?

Any food which is Pre-Packed for Direct Sale (PPDS); that means in-house, wrapped or placed in packaging and then put on display. This could include products like sandwiches, salads, snacks and cakes.

What must we do?

All PPDS products will need to clearly display the name of the food and a full list of all ingredients. Any named allergens (from the 14 named allergens list) must be highlighted within the ingredients list, for example by printing them in bold or a different colour.

What are the penalties for non compliance?

Businesses failing to follow the new rules could face a fine of up to £5,000 per offence.

Any business who is selling or planning to sell pre-packed foods would be sensible to consider their operations and processes now, in order to allow all required changes to be in place and tested before October 2021. As well as considering the physical labelling requirements, food businesses will also need to think about staff training implications. Whilst the new law makes information more readily available and therefore easier for staff to communicate accurate information, a key message for all staff in food preparation is the importance of consistency in and clear communication of ingredients and recipes.

What is a Food Safety Management System / HACCP?

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Every food business in the UK has a legal responsibility to:

  • make sure food is safe to eat
  • make sure it doesn’t add, remove or treat food in a way that makes it harmful to eat

A very important part of fulfilling this legal duty is creating a Food Safety Management system, using the principles of Hazard analysis and Critical control points (HACCP). HACCP is a system that helps you identify potential food hazards and introduce procedures to make sure those hazards are removed or reduced to an acceptable level.

These procedures will help you produce and sell food that is safe to eat, providing you:

  • keep up-to-date documents and records relating to your procedures
  • regularly review your procedures to ensure they reflect what you produce or how you work

Creating a HACCP Food Safety Management System

To create a comprehensive food safety management system, you will need to consider the entire journey of the food you produce, starting with the source of your ingredients and covering areas such as food handling, storage, cooking, cleaning and staff training.

A great resource to help you with this is the Safer Food, Better Business resource provided by the Food Standards Agency. This book walks you through each area of your business and tells you what you need to look out for, what records you need to keep, and how often you need to review your processes.

Safer Food, Better Business highlights the importance of good record keeping when producing food that is safe to eat. Good records will instil a culture of diligence within your food business and will also help prove to an EHO that you are doing things right.

The key records that most food businesses will need to keep are:

For more information, The Safer Food Group offer a Level 2 HACCP awareness course that looks into each area of Food Management in closer detail, explaining how to get it right – and what can happen when you don’t!

Important Links

Free 14 allergens poster

How do I keep my restaurant allergy-safe?

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You might think that getting your food business allergy safe is a hassle – but think about the consequences of being careless with ingredients that have the potential to kill. If you put the right processes and procedures in place and everyone follows them, you can be sure you are doing your best to keep your customers, your kitchen and your reputation safe.

So, what are the steps you need to follow to make your kitchen allergen safe? This list is not a comprehensive guide – you must ensure that you are properly trained to implement a successful allergen policy in your business – but it is written to show you that making your business allergen proof is logical and achievable, and shouldn’t be intimidating.

Preparation

Step 1 – Understanding

Ensure that you have adequate food allergy training to fully understand the risks of allergenic ingredients and the best practice you must use to ensure a safe business. This is not as simple as just keeping peanuts out of your kitchen!

Step 2 – Ingredients Audit

Be aware of every ingredient that you use in your kitchen, whether cooked in house from individual ingredients or pre-prepared. For every element of every dish, make a list of all ingredients and highlight the 14 known allergens.

 Tip: Don’t forget drinks, condiments and sauces – did you know that malt vinegar contains gluten, for instance?

Step 3 – Process walk through

Walk through the entire ‘life’ of a dish in your kitchen – from delivery, through storage, preparation, service and clean down, considering what would happen if an allergen was present in that dish. Identify points where cross contamination could occur, and how you can prevent it by measures such as:

  • Separated storage and prep zones for allergens 
  • Specific equipment 
  • Clear identification of specially prepared meals during service
  • Efficient clean down and separate pot wash routines

You may decide that you cannot guarantee that allergenic ingredients can be eliminated from dishes – if that is the case, you must communicate this to your staff and customers, to allow them to make informed decisions about their food.

Step 4 – Write it down! 

Once you’ve completed the walk through and decided what you will do to keep allergens isolated, you must write it down in a clear, logical way that can be followed by any team member involved in any stage of the process.

Training

Once you have gathered all of the vital information, you have to pass it onto the relevant staff. Think about different roles in your business and their contact with allergens, as well as their contact with customers

Train your staff clearly in the processes they need to follow when working with allergenic ingredients. It is useful for front of house staff to have an understanding of food prep process, and food prep staff to understand how the front of house team operates. Create a culture in which they are happy to ask questions and seek advice if they don’t understand or have forgotten their training.

Think about how you retrain your staff when dishes, processes or legislation changes, and how often you refresh their training.

It is vital that you include allergen training in your induction programme for new and returning staff.

Communication

Consider the clearest ways in which you can communicate ingredients info to customers. It is a legal requirement to communicate the details of which dishes contain the 14 listed allergens, but some customers have allergies that are not covered by the list, and being able to inform them accurately of all ingredients in all dishes will help your reputation as a responsible business.

The key message for you and your staff when it comes to communication is NOT TO GUESS THE ANSWER TO AN ALLERGEN QUESTION. ’I don’t know’ is always an acceptable answer, if the member of staff then seeks out the correct piece of information. Teach your staff:

Food Standards Agency launches ‘Here to Help’ guide

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The Food Standards Agency have announced the launch of their ‘Here to Help’ Guide, aimed at small and new food businesses adapting to the current situation.

The FSA say,

‘In order to continue operating during COVID-19, many established food businesses have diversified into food delivery, takeaway or online sales. There has also been an increase in people cooking from home and selling food locally or online.

The Food Standards Agency are offering support and guidance to established and new businesses to help address the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Here to Help campaign will provide guidance and promote best practice to support food businesses to stay compliant with food hygiene and safety requirements and best respond to the impacts of COVID-19.’

Future trends in the food industry

It is no exaggeration to say that the last 6 months have been the most unusual we have experienced. Underlined with uncertainty and fear that has invaded our home and professional lives, we have all done our best to adapt to the new circumstances and work towards a future we were not expecting.

Some sectors of the food industry have had an incredibly tough time – for instance the number of vacancies in catering advertised in July was down 61% compared to 2019, reflecting the fall out from closed venues, reduced capacity and cancelled events. Some sectors however, have managed to thrive – adaptable players in food manufacture have been responsive in light of supply issues during the early stages of lockdown, choosing new products, production methods or packaging to meet the needs of a rapidly changing market.

So, how can we be more prepared for the next 12 months in the food industry? We look at three key predicted trends, and consider their potential impact.

Reversing the obesity crisis

We have already seen the early signs of an upcoming government initiative to change the course of the obesity crisis. Research published by Diabetes UK has demonstrated the link between lockdown and increased rates of obesity in children, and an evidence review by Public Health England strongly suggest that outcomes of Covid-19 are worsened in obese adults.

It remains to be seen what role the food industry will play in battling the obesity crisis, but now is a great time for businesses to plan for the future and consider ways they can demonstrate their commitment to the health and well being of their customers. These may include:

  • reformulating products to lower fat, sugar and salt levels
  • increasing plant based ranges
  • training staff in good nutrition to enable good menu planning
  • publishing nutritional values on menus and / or websites to encourage healthy choices
  • creating healthy eating promotions and recipes

Strengthening the Supply chain

Initial stages of lockdown exposed some weaknesses in the food supply chain – however, manufacturers and food retailers worked tirelessly and effectively to get products back into stores and homes. Despite this being an unprecedented situation, that early period forced food businesses to reassess the suitability of supply processes.

A number of trends have begun to emerge from this work, and we will continue to see changes throughout the next 12 months, emphasised by the potential supply issues caused by Brexit. The trends have included:

  • a greater emphasis on local, seasonal produce – with the additional benefit of decreased environmental impact
  • a more considered and collaborative use of resources in food production – for instance sharing plant facilities or warehousing space, or multi purposing production lines
  • increased scrutiny on safe production processes, including good health and well being of industry workers in light of covid spikes centred around production facilities.

Now more than ever, good practice at all stages within the food chain will place business in the best position to take advantage of new market opportunities, maximising their potential to survive and grow.

Rising success of the small food business

The economic situation is undoubtedly tough for all food businesses, especially those without a corporate safety net to keep the cash flow going. However, lockdown has demonstrated how agile and adaptable small businesses have been and continue to be as the rules and landscape shift on a weekly business

Some great examples of small business agility have been:

  • Pubs and restaurants adjusting their eat in offering to takeaways or meal box options
  • Food retailers taking their sales out into their community, using church halls, delivery services, or even repurposed ice cream vans to get supplies to vulnerable people
  • Businesses recognising and solving community problems – including the micro brewery who provided a reciprocal collection service for food bank items donated by customers of their delivery service. Community engagement has been a strong theme for a lot of food businesses, giving them the opportunity to really get to know and build relationships with their customers, and there is no doubt a number of these initiatives will continue and thrive once the threat of the pandemic has lessened.
  • Artisan producers joining forces to create ‘lockdown luxury’ boxes – sharing storage, packing and delivery resources to reduce cost and environmental impact and increase customer base

Small businesses can suffer from higher proportional overheads, without the economies of scale enjoyed by larger companies. However, they often have the benefit of entrepreneurial spirit, an adaptable and loyal staff body and the agility to change direction quickly and make change happen. In these adverse times, these skills will continue to be invaluable and as circumstances develop, the rise of small businesses is very welcome .

Do I need a food hygiene certificate?

There is no one simple answer to the question, ‘Do I need a Food Hygiene Certificate’ – but we can certainly help find the right answer for you.

If you are responsible for managing food safety in a business – for example, a supervisor, manager or business owner – you must be suitably trained to ensure you can put correct procedures in place and see they are carried out. You must also ensure that your team is appropriately trained in food hygiene and safety, including allergens.

If you are someone who works with food, you must be trained to a suitable level for your role, in food hygiene and safety, including allergens.

But – what is suitable or appropriate training?

The Food Standards Agency define training as:

  • training while working
  • self-study
  • relevant previous experience

So, technically, neither a supervisor nor their team requires a food hygiene certificate to operate safely and satisfactorily. However, it is worth bearing in mind that training is a key area that your EHO will look into, and it is very likely that any inspection will include a number of questions both to management and team members to satisfy the inspector that good food safety is understood and carried out. For that reason, it is good practice for all food handlers and managers to regularly undertake regulated food hygiene training and to renew on a regular basis.

For supervisors, managers, and anyone else who oversees activities and staff and is responsible for introducing and maintaining procedures and processes, it is important that training includes management level skills, for example creating and using a Food Safety Management system. In general in the UK these would be Level 3 courses – although it is always important to check the syllabus of any course you undertake, to ensure you cover all the important elements.

For food handlers – including chef, cooks, anyone in food prep and front of house staff – a Level 2 Food Hygiene certificate should cover day to day needs – although again, we would always recommend checking the syllabus of any course before you sign up. A Level 3 Certificate would be a good way to increase skills and knowledge and demonstrate readiness to take the next step into management

For anyone who doesn’t directly handle food, but an understanding of food safety is important, a Level 1 Food Hygiene Certificate can provide the basic level of training required. This training might be useful for someone making food deliveries, or a kitchen porter.

For all regulated food training, we would recommend retaking the course every 3 years. As well as refreshing knowledge, this gives the learner insight into any new practice or legislation influencing food hygiene practice introduced since their previous training.